When making the frigid walk to the bus following the 2015 state tournament in frosty Ithaca, St. Anthony’s swimmers could only think about getting back.
“We got spanked by them. It wasn’t even close,” said Tyler Meyers after St. Anthony’s placed second to Fordham Prep in the 2015 state championship meet. But even in the loss, the Friars found reason to be confident.
“We weren’t down or anything at all after that second-place finish, but we were really determined to get that first-place finish next year,” said Sean Cannon. “We knew that we were that close to winning it all and that we’d have a strong team this year, so that second-place finish really made us want it even more.”
A year later, the Friars walked out as champions — taking their first boys swimming state federation championship in school history — March 5 in Buffalo. Before winning the state meet, St. Anthony’s knocked off its rival and five-time defending champion Fordham Prep in a dual meet and at the CHSAA championship.
“It was euphoric both times,” said CJ Arena. “As a freshman, I never really knew if we’d be able to beat Fordham, the powerhouse they are. I cried tears of joy after both of them.”
The Friars opened the state meet with an Automatic All-American time and CHSAA record (1:34.09) in the 200-yard medley relay with Meyers, Michael Chang, Andrew Stange and Cannon. It was the only race the team won that afternoon but Cannon finished with two top-five individual finishes (second in 50 free, fifth in 100 free) and Arena placed fourth in the 500 free.
“To be able to right away get out there and set the tone of the meet I think was a major component to the win,” Meyers said. “It was really a great start to a meet with a great result.”
The Friars ended the meet nearly as strong — setting a school record in the 400-free with seniors Cannon, Meyers, Noah Chernik and Stange, a junior, placing third to earn enough points for the team title.
“You want to go out as a champion which is just unbelievable,” Chernik said. “It’s really just a fairy-tale ending of a really, really unbelievable season.”
Now when the swimmers pass each other in the hall at school, they refer to each other as “Champ.” Even at the National Club Swimming Association Junior Championships in Orlando later in March, they said, “What’s up, Champ?” seeing each other between races.
After the state meet, coach Dan McBride took the swimmers to Buffalo’s famous Anchor Bar for a chicken wing-eating contest, in which Conor Rutigliano edged out Arena. The team sported their Friars swimming winter caps, which Arena insisted they get after last season’s cold walk back to the bus. After 6 a.m. practices during the season, they’d go to breakfast. Nearly everything they did was together.
“A band of brothers, we all thought from Day One this was our year,” Arena said. “You wanted it to last forever because of how special it felt.”